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These NBA Dancers Spin, Shimmy And Twerk. And They're All 50 Or Older

Wizdom dancers perform at the Capitol One Arena in Washington, D.C.
Wizdom dancers perform at the Capitol One Arena in Washington, D.C.

During a recent break in the action, a dance squad stormed the court for the Washington Wizards. Donning bright red, white and sparkly blue outfits, they spun, they shimmied, they even did some light twerking. They looked like any dance team a fan might expect to see at an NBA game, except for one difference: They were all over the age of 50.

Wizdom dancer Christopher Johnson, 53, rehearses while the rest of the team gets ready in locker rooms before their second-to-last performance of the season. Johnson is a special needs educator when he's not dancing and says that music and dance have played an integral role in his life.
/ Olivia Sun/NPR
Wizdom dancer Christopher Johnson, 53, rehearses while the rest of the team gets ready in locker rooms before their second-to-last performance of the season. Johnson is a special needs educator when he's not dancing and says that music and dance have played an integral role in his life.

The "Wizdom" dance team, as the squad is called, first took the court for the Wizards in November and has performed at several home games since. The 19 women and one man who make up the squad range in age from 50 to 76, and they include former NFL cheerleaders, a dentist, several grandmothers and a breast cancer survivor.

"We are part of what I like to call the 'Fame,' 'Flashdance' and 'Let's Get Physical' generation," says Wizdom dancer Cindy Hardeman, 60. "We're just taking it into our elder years," she says, later adding, "If we were to top it in order of why we do it, I'd say fun, fun and fun."

Wizdom dancers rehearse backstage before a performance at the Capitol One Arena.
/ Olivia Sun/NPR
Wizdom dancers rehearse backstage before a performance at the Capitol One Arena.

With contagious enthusiasm, team members are almost always dancing: in the locker room, walking to practice, lining up to perform.

"They're very well-rehearsed, perform with a lot of energy, charisma, style, and are just entertaining to watch," says the team's choreographer, Derric Whitfield. "The audience can get behind them because they are so good. It's not just, 'Oh that was cute.' It's 'Wow they really can dance.'"

More than 50 people tried out for the Wizdom — a rigorous audition process that was documented by the team's sponsor, the AARP. With their debut in November, they became one of at least a dozen other squads for dancers who are 50 or older in the NBA. By the time the season is over, Whitfield says, the team will have learned and performed seven routines in total.

More than 50 people tried out for the Wizdom. By the time their season is over, the team will have learned and performed seven routines.
/ Olivia Sun/NPR
More than 50 people tried out for the Wizdom. By the time their season is over, the team will have learned and performed seven routines.

Some who made the team tried out because they had performed as professional dancers or cheerleaders years ago and wanted to do so again. Some were looking for a way to get more exercise or were talked into it by their grandchildren.

Wizdom members enter the floor of the Capitol One Arena.
/ Olivia Sun/NPR
Wizdom members enter the floor of the Capitol One Arena.

For others, the team has helped them to overcome hardships.

"I was laying around having a pity party cause I lost my husband eight years ago and my mother two years ago and in between I had brain surgery," says one member of the team who asked to be identified, fittingly, as "Nana." At 76, she is the oldest member of the team. "This is really lifting my spirits," she says.

"Nana," 76 (center), is the oldest member of Wizdom.
/ Olivia Sun/NPR
"Nana," 76 (center), is the oldest member of Wizdom.

Kristina Leach, 68, is another member of the Wizdom. A former cheerleader for Washington's NBA team, she lost her husband a few years ago. One year later, the restaurant where she worked for 40 years closed down. She says dancing for the Wizdom is the "best thing to happen to me."

The 19 women and one man who make up the Wizdom range in age from 50 to 76.
/ Olivia Sun/NPR
The 19 women and one man who make up the Wizdom range in age from 50 to 76.

The team is extremely dedicated, Whitfield says. One member, for example, performed right after a prolonged nosebleed. Some have chronic health conditions but train together outside of the team's official weekly practices.

"To our surprise we are able to do things we didn't think we could do," says Christopher Johnson, 53, the one male member of the team. "It's motivating us to even go further, to practice more, to be part of other dance classes."

The Wizdom's last performance is on April 9. They'll all have to try out again next year if they want to rejoin the team.
/ Olivia Sun/NPR
The Wizdom's last performance is on April 9. They'll all have to try out again next year if they want to rejoin the team.

The group's last performance is on April 9. They'll all have to try out again next year if they want to rejoin the team.

But members of the Wizdom say that won't keep them apart. They've already planned cookouts and pool parties for the off-season. As Nana puts it, the team has become a family.

"We go through our aches and pains together," she says. Then she adds: "Anyone have Tylenol Extra Strength? Give me three!"

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.